They are preparing to renew their fight for more federal funds to help New York City — including its flagging economy and garment industry — cope with the aftermath of Sept. 11. When Congress adjourned in late December, just more than half of the $20 billion first promised by President Bush had been allocated for the effort, much to the anger of New York’s 31 representatives and two senators. The reason for the shortfall: scarce federal funds.
Rep. John Sweeney, a Republican whose district encompasses nine counties in the state’s southeast sector, has called for hearings to begin soon after Congress reconvenes next week. He wants lawmakers to delve deeper into the economic impact of the terrorist attacks and then write a check for almost $10 billion for New York City and nearby counties and towns to specifically help workers and businesses regain a foothold.
“Looking a devastated local business owner in the eye and hearing the plight of an able worker left without a job because of these attacks will have a profound effect on lawmakers who think the delivery of federal aid can be delayed,” Sweeney said.
Of the $11.1 billion Congress has directed to New York thus far, all but about $4 billion is slated for things other than cleaning up the World Trade Center disaster site, reimbursing the cost of rescue operations and rebuilding or bolstering infrastructure.
About $200 million of that is pegged for unemployment checks and job training assistance. Another $700 million, to be distributed by New York State, will be handed out to businesses as direct grants, under terms that are still being defined by the governor’s office. Congress also gave the state another $2.7 billion in what’s called a community development block grant to use at its discretion to boost the economy and help residents within what’s been called the New York Recovery Zone, bordered by Canal Street, East Broadway and Grand Street.
Garment factories in Chinatown continue to face hardship, having not fully recovered from having local streets closed after Sept. 11 and from the downturn in consumer demand for apparel due to the attacks and recession.
According to New York’s Garment Industry Development Corporation, the city’s garment workers could lose $100 million in wages this year if business doesn’t pick up. The GIDC estimated that after the attacks last year, the city’s 60,000 garment workers lost $88.5 million in wages.
On Friday, more than 4,000 workers showed up in Chinatown’s Columbus Park to receive information about how they could get a share of $200,000 in grants from World Vision, a Christian relief organization. The group was so large that police were heard asking people to leave, since only 3,000 would receive a pamphlet indicating when to return this week and apply. Many of the workers, mostly Chinese women, started lining up at 8 p.m.
The Greater Blouse, Skirt & Undergarment Association, a local contractor group, is in charge of distributing the money World Vision wants to be divided into $1,000 grants for 200 unemployed Chinatown garment workers.
“The garment business is always a tough business, but Sept. 11 made it drop much faster,” said Teddy Lai, the association’s executive director. He said operating at 50 percent capacity is the “best-case” scenario in all of New York garment factories, which comprise the city’s largest manufacturing base.
Lai said unemployed or partially employed garment workers and factory owners have been propped up by similar grants from the Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army and other concerns. However, he criticized how much of the money has gone to help only those located south of Canal Street, one of several demarcations that have been made by donors in order to target those most affected by the attacks.
Lai said there are 40 garment factories located south of Canal and 160 factories above.
“I keep telling people that’s not fair,” he said. “You can’t chop Chinatown in half.”
Aside from federal funds, millions of dollars have been channeled by New York State and the city to keep Manhattan intact after the terrorist attacks. However, according to politicians and those affected by the post-Sept. 11 economic downturn, more federal money is desperately needed to recover over the long haul.
“Right now, all that we’ve received is lifeline money,” said Michael Kramer, head of the TriBeCa Organization.
He said Lower Manhattan businesses hope the $700 million in federal grant money being administered by the state will go toward paying several months of rent to cushion losses until shoppers return in earnest.
Kramer, owner of an audio-video retail store, said he and many in his merchants’ group have been turned down for federal Small Business Administration loans because of a lack of collateral. Kramer said the SBA is rejecting loan applications because merchants, with little or nothing left in the bank, aren’t willing to guarantee repayment with their homes. Kramer has kept his business going with a $10,000 extension of bank credit and a $10,000 loan from the nonprofit, micro lender Accion New York.
Efforts in Congress among New York lawmakers are focused not just on lower Manhattan. For example, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat representing the East Side and portions of Queens, and Thomas Reynolds, a Republican from Western New York, have introduced a bill that would grant federal tax deductions of up to $1,000 in 2002 for money spent on tourism in New York City. The bill has 35 cosponsors.
Maloney said she hopes the measure makes its way into an economic stimulus package, a controversial topic Congress is expected to revisit when it returns next week. In a statement, Maloney said the “deductions on purchases while visiting the city would entice people to come and spur our economy.”
The White House has indicated that the President is supportive of more money for New York and proposals are likely to be included in his 2003 budget.
New York lawmakers are angling for money to be added to the current 2002 budget on an emergency basis. However, federal funds are scarce, given the economic downturn and increased spending on defense, so there are many competing projects across the country seeking money.